Living an authentic life means living a life that we are proud of, one that resonates with our most strongly held values and our unique personality.
Authenticity is a very difficult thing to create, and maintain, in our society. It takes a lot of courage to be comfortable in our own skin, especially if it means that we take a position that is different from the crowd – or if we find ourselves going in a different direction than others, but still feeling good about it.
There’s something that the writer Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that I never forget. I think about it all the time, and I’ve glanced at this quote so many times that it has become engrained in who I am, and it’s given me so much comfort in those times when I’ve begun to doubt my muse, or question whether I’m on the right path (despite the path being evidently clear to me):
It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
We have to pursue our own unique course in life – and this philosophy should permeate everything that we do – it needs to come from within, and although we can definitely learn from others, only we can make decisions, so there has to be a conscious choice in everything that we do.
How do we know if we are living an authentic life?
I believe that we can tell through our motivation, and the “type” of motivation that we feel.
There are basically two types of motivation – “push” motivation, and “pull” motivation.
Push motivation is motivation that is driven by an external condition – usually a reward or a punishment, pain or pleasure, hope or fear – but there always has to be something connected. There has to be a tangible payoff, or a consequence in order for us to act.
Push motivation is about doing things that we’d rather not do (like jobs) because we want something (like money), or we want to avoid something (like being poor).
With push motivation we have to constantly “push” ourselves. We have to “dig in” and sometimes do what we don’t want to do just to get the rewards. Push motivation is the “pay the bills” motivation, and it longs for the vacation or the weekend. Push motivation is the “I’d quit this job in 1 second if I won the lottery” motivation, but because our ticket never gets called – the job still remains.
Pull motivation is entirely different, and it comes from a mysterious place that I don’t think we truly understand. Pull motivation is much stronger than push motivation. Pull motivation is when we feel “pulled” towards a pursuit, and we feel like the pursuit is greater than us – it is part of perhaps a life calling, or something that we just can’t put down.
We tap into pull motivation when what we are doing, or pursuing, is aligned with what we most deeply want and value.
We don’t need to be immediately rewarded when we feel pull motivation, and we aren’t scared of consequences either. We do it because we love it, because it’s part of who we are, and we will bear with the consequences no matter what, we aren’t scared of them.
The best analogy of pull motivation is parenting. No parent needs to be “rewarded” for taking care of their kids, and I guarantee that any loving parent would risk their own life to safe the life of their child, without fear of what is going to happen to them. They do it because they love, they do it because that child is a part of who they are. They don’t exist without them.
So here is how you know if you are living an authentic life – do an inventory of yourself – how much of your life is pull motivation, and how much is push motivation, and in what areas are you feeling pull and in what areas are you feeling push?
I recognize that no one’s life is 100% pull. Even parents have those days where they push, but they have many, many days where they feel elation and pull, and those days easily outweigh the push.
If you are feeling a high percentage of push motivation in what you do, particularly in your job, then you are in the wrong career in my opinion. No questions about it.
I felt push effectively 100% of the time when I was a lawyer. Since I’ve left law, to become an entrepreneur and writer, the vast majority of my time is spent in pull motivation, and it feels so much better. I feel pulled towards my goals. It feels so good to transcend the need for rewards for our actions, or the fear of consequences.
If you feel nothing but push I have one question:
Why do you stay?
Your whole life shouldn’t be push. There is so much more to life. It feels so good to have pull motivation working for you, and it is so much more effective than push motivation.
If you stay, and you feel primarily push motivation, I would be willing to bet that the reason that you stay is fear (the answer is always fear). Don’t let fear run your life. Tap into pull.